Investigators, witnesses testify to gruesome scene in attorney’s slaying

Crime Watch

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Christopher Bagby has investigated a number of homicides, but the Bakersfield police sergeant said the scene he encountered after the killing of attorney Marcos Vargas stands out for its sheer brutality.

“This was one of the most violent assaults I’ve ever witnessed,” Bagby testified Thursday during the second day of trial for Vargas’ accused killer.

Bagby said the attorney was “virtually decapitated” as he described the injuries to the body. He testified to finding copious amounts in Vargas’s southeast Bakersfield apartment and the walkway outside, and a blood trail leading from his apartment to other apartments where Vargas tried to get help.

Nicholas Quintana, 22, is charged with first-degree murder with special circumstances of lying in wait and means of torture. He’s also charged with robbery and transporting an assault weapon.

Prosecutor Eric Smith says Quintana agreed to meet Vargas in-person at the attorney’s apartment Nov. 29, 2017, after the two chatted on a dating app. Quintana stabbed Vargas, the prosecutor said, and stole his cellphone before driving to his girlfriend’s home in Long Beach.

Data retrieved from cell towers and the dating app, as well as DNA evidence, show Quintana was the man behind the grisly attack, Smith said.

Quintana’s attorney, Timothy Hennessy, has said his client is not a murderer and asked the jury to keep an open mind. He noted in his opening statement that Vargas promised Quintana alcohol and sexual favors when he invited him to the apartment.

Vargas, 26, worked at Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance at the time of his death.

Several people who lived at Golden Valley Luxury Apartments when Vargas was killed also testified Thursday, describing hearing banging on their doors early that morning and looking outside to find blood on the ground.

Ashlee Hembree, who testified via video, said a “loud bang” from the apartment next door woke her. It sounded like someone or something was hitting the wall on the other side of where she and her then-fiance Jim Hembree slept, she said. The noises traveled downward from the second floor to the first.

Ashlee Hembree went downstairs and looked out the front window.

“I saw a tall man holding his neck standing there looking confused,” she testified. The man was naked and covered in blood from head to toe, she said.

Jim Hembree, who testified immediately afterward, said Vargas, whom he didn’t know but recognized as his neighbor, had a hand over his throat. So much blood was coming from him that a pool had formed at his feet, he testified.

Vargas paced back and forth while Jim Hembree asked his wife to grab a phone to call 911, he testified. Jim Hembree said he spoke with a 911 dispatcher then told Vargas help was on the way. Hembree said he had armed himself and looked around the area outside his apartment but didn’t see anyone else.

Vargas sat on the grass, then lay down and his hand left his neck. He was dead moments later, Hembree testified. He said he called 911 again and told the dispatcher Vargas had died.

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